At craft shows, Danny Robinson becomes catnip for bored, restless husbands. Almost without fail, guys make a beeline for his booth when they catch a glimpse of Robinson’s finely crafted blades. “[They] say, ‘I’m so glad to see you here, because this is men’s stuff!’” the knifemaker explains.
And he’s fine with it — but he’s also aware of the irony. “I just find it funny, because women use cutlery as much or more than any male in a given day.”
However, Robinson doesn’t deny the wide appeal of his craft. He’s displayed knives alongside booths of crocheted hats and delicate jewelry as a member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild, then traveled to the Southeastern Wildlife Exposition to sell his wares beside duck calls and decoys. “Whether you’re shaving your face, carving hams, or cutting packages open, you can’t get through a day without a blade,” he points out.
Robinson has long been a knife collector and trader, but he didn’t begin making blades for a living until 2011. He had planned for a friend, Wayne Hendrix, to produce his first design — only for Hendrix to shove the sketch back at him. “‘If you can draw a knife that looks that good, you can probably make it in a year,’” Robinson remembers Hendrix cajoling him.
Using a grinder in his garage, Robinson began practicing his skills on old files, a tradition with a long history among rural farmers in the Appalachians. “When it’s 60 miles to the nearest Sears catalogue, and that’s half a catalogue in an outhouse, you repurpose everything,” Robinson quips. The farrier’s rasp first used to care for a horse’s hooves, for example, became a butcher knife or a corn cutter when it no longer suited its initial purpose.
As suggested by the punny name of his business, “Ex-Files” Knives & Handcrafted Cutlery, Robinson chose not to move on from his first source material. He notes that despite their age, old files are made with high-carbon tool steel that can stand the stress of daily use in a knife. And customers appreciate the thrifty tradition of reuse — old-school upcycling.
The results are as beautiful as they are functional. One recent set of table knives features slim, matte-black blades, dimpled with diamond imprints where the metal meets polished handles of 200-year-old pine. Gray dots mark the handle’s points of attachment to the full tang provided by the original file.
Other knives use colorful micarta handles, made from recycled fabric and epoxy by Danny’s wife, Anne Marie, under the name Laid Up Composites. “The material handles just like a piece of wood, but we can make handles out of granddaddy’s Carhartts or military uniforms,” he explains.
Although Robinson makes all sorts of knives, he says that culinary pieces may be the most gratifying. “At a folk festival in Greensboro, I had a chef in his whites walk up to my table, buy a knife, then walk right back to his restaurant and start prepping food,” he says. “How cool is it that my craft is used in his craft?”
Danny Robinson, Southern Highland Craft Guild. For details, visit Robinson Ex-Files Knives & Handcrafted Cutlery on Facebook or @exfilesknives on Instagram.